Camel’s Hump or Bust: LT Legacy – Division IX
Long Trail Legacy, Division IX
This series chronicles a comparison of hiking experiences on the Long Trail from 1937 and 2023.
Notes from 1937, Long Trail Division IX
Saturday, June 26 13.8 miles
Up at 5. Killed porkie last night. Left camp at 6:45. Shot couple more porkies on the trail making a total of 23 between Lorry and I. Ate dinner on top of Burnt Rock Mt. Made top of Camel’s Hump at 4:40, costing us 50¢ a piece for lodging. Met two fellows starting out for Bennington. They forgot their sugar so we gave them the little we had left. Went to bed about 9:30 and had the best night’s sleep in a week.
Sunday, June 27 5.7 miles
Lorry got up before me and had breakfast ready. We left camp at 5:10 and arrived in Bolton about 10:40. Paid 25¢ to get across the river. Bought some candy, soda, ice cream. Called home and waited for the car.
Newspaper clipping from Monday June 28, 1937 (Barre Daily Times?)
Joseph Bennett of Wellington street and Loren Jones of Merchant street returned yesterday from an eight-day trip on the Long Trail from Mendon mountain pass to Mount Mansfield. They carried packs weighing 62 pounds each at the start, and enjoyed the trip immensely, they reported. Bennett resumed work as an usher at the Paramount theatre last evening. Both he and Jones graduated this month at Spaulding high school.
Sunday July 9, 2023 – 8 miles
I was up early but didn’t rush. Checked the weather forecast while having coffee and oatmeal. It was the same, with thunderstorms predicted in the afternoon. The terrain between Birch Glen and Cowles Cove enabled me to make up some time. I was reminded of a quote in So Clear, So Cool, So Grand from 1931, “We swung easily to Cowles Cove Lodge. Doggone’t ’twas nice going. Scarcely a hill and ‘nerry’ a climb.” Seemed pretty accurate to me, some 90 years later.
I was in a good rhythm and clicking along at about two miles per hour. It had some ups and downs but was the best footing I’ve encountered since the stretch north of Breadloaf.
Then I hit the climb to Burnt Rock Mountain. That sure slowed my pace. It was a prolonged crazy rock scramble but really well marked with paint blazes on the rock face. I found myself having fun and laughing every time I looked up and saw the next set of obstacles.
I really enjoyed the view as well as the adventure of just getting to the top. In fact, I think I enjoyed both the climb and the view of Burnt Rock more than most of the better-known peaks on the LT.
Coming down the other side was a different type of adventure. It passed through Ladder Ravine and Paris Skidway. In the ravine I used the fixed rope to shimmy to the top of the ladder. Once at the bottom, it was a bit confusing. No blazes were in sight to indicate which direction to go through the ravine. My navigation rule that held true for most of this hike was to simply “follow the mud”. There were multiple footprints heading downhill in the mud to the left. To the right was another rocky uphill. I went about 100′ in each direction hoping to see a blaze. Nope. Time to turn on the GPS for a moment. The trail went up over the rocks. There were a few places like this where a well-placed blaze would sure make it easier to navigate.
Following the ravine came a stretch of weirdly slippery rocks. Heading downhill, I came across a boulder that looked just like hundreds of others I’ve successfully navigated. But there was a fixed rope along the one side. Hmm, must be there for a reason. I grabbed the rope to steady myself, stepped on the rock, promptly fell on my ass, and slid the rest of the way down! I’ve since talked to other hikers who’ve described the same experience there. In his book, Hindes simply remarked, “The trail from here to camp was hell.”
There were more slippery rocks like this on the descent from Burnt Rock. That and the scarcity of blazes slowed my pace down considerably. I fell several times on the slick rocks and was a bit shaken up by that. How could I feel secure like a mountain goat on the uphills and then like I was walking on ice coming down?
By mid-morning it looked like I’d have to stop at Montclair Glen for the night rather than risk Camel’s Hump in the afternoon when the thunderstorms were predicted to roll through.
It rained hard on the downhill stretch from Ethan Allen to Wind Gap and Montclair Glen. There were three other hikers in the shelter when I arrived, but they all moved on the moment the rain eased up a little (two were SOBO and one a day hiker headed down a side trail to his car). None were heading NOBO across the Hump like me, but we all shared intel on what we had just hiked. I warned the SOBOs about the slippery rocks ahead, but they were already aware of them. The rocks were notorious and there were several entries in the shelter logbook describing how slick and challenging they were. At least those rocks were behind me, but trying to continue Northbound in these conditions would be too dangerous. Looks like I might be here for a while. Time to dry off and eat a hot lunch.
Monday July 10, 2023 – 0 miles
The rain was relentless last night and still going now, so most likely I’ll stay here at least another night. The forecast was alarming to say the least: 2-5 inches today followed by 2-5 overnight and then more tomorrow. At first, I thought the 2-5″ was a typo repeated multiple times, but then saw the warnings of widespread “Catastrophic flooding.”
Montclair Glen Lodge was safe and dry, probably the best-case scenario for hunkering down and riding out a major storm. I took stock of my food supply and figured I had at least three to four days’ worth. That was good. Checked the battery on my phone and figured I’d get another two charges from my power bank. Good for about three days if I use it sparingly.
Cell signal was weak, but consistent, so I was connected to the outside world. Communication was key. I was scheduled to meet Emily and Jake in two days. They were driving up from Pennsylvania to meet me for a double zero in Stowe. The plan was to resupply, do some day hiking together, and visit some famous Vermont breweries. I had given them GPS coordinates for three potential pickup spots before leaving on my hike. The closest one to where I’m at now was Bolton, but with the likelihood of road closures, I may need to send them other pickup options.
I had the cabin to myself until a large group showed up later in the day. They were soaked and I made room in the shelter so they could get in out of the rain. They were a youth group from a summer camp and had just started out this afternoon, climbing one of the side trails up to the LT. It was chaos for a while as they got organized, but in some ways, I was happy to see them. I was able to get updates on conditions of the side trails and road closures down in the valley.
I thought they were a bit nuts to start a backpacking trip in these conditions, but it reminded me of my days in the Boy Scouts when we went camping during Hurricane Agnes in 1972 (my father was the Scoutmaster who didn’t let the weather cancel the trip!)
Tuesday July 11, 2023 – 5.4 miles
It was a restless night with a full house in the lodge last night. I was up early and quietly made some coffee and turned my phone on to check the forecast and road closure updates. It looked like things were improving but there was widespread flooding in the river valleys. My primary pickup point was flooded, but my new secondary one seemed okay. I continued to do some writing while listening to the rain. It was almost three hours later when the group started stirring. I had my gear already organized for today’s walk and was just waiting for the weather to ease up a little.
Camel’s Hump posed a dilemma. I promised myself (and my friend Cheryl) that I wouldn’t be a ‘dumbass’ on this hike. It’s been a running joke between us for a while now. But it’s also a good barometer of when it’s time to punt in the name of safety. It started on a group hike in the early days of my recovery when I was really struggling. When we came to a slippery rock, Cheryl said, “Don’t be a dumbass. Just sit down and slide down the rock.” It was really good advice that I still use often.
My current plan was to head for Bamforth Ridge Shelter on the other side of Camel’s Hump using the side trails (Forest City and Burroughs) that bypass the summit. That would add a couple of miles to get there but would be safer in bad weather conditions. The Alpine Trail also bypasses the summit but can be slick in wet conditions. No thanks.
Getting to Bamforth would put me in good position to meet Emily and Jake on Wednesday as prearranged. If that route turns out to be impassable due to flooding down in the valley, my backup plan is to head down one of the side trails to a road where I might be able to walk out. Not knowing the trail conditions, there’s a possibility I might need to turn around and return to the shelter for another day or two.
Unfortunately, all of these plans would mean bypassing the summit of Camel’s Hump. That’s disappointing because Camel’s Hump was the clearly the crux of my father’s hike: “I’m going to make Camel’s Hump tomorrow or die in the attempt.” But getting off this mountain safely was the priority for me now (“Don’t be a dumbass!”). And the cumulative effect of all the falls I took yesterday had me a little spooked. I’d have to come back and do Camel’s Hump another time.
The weather looked like it might break later in the morning, so I lingered a while before hoisting my pack. I was about ready to go when I overheard the leaders of the camp group as they checked the weather and adjusted their plan for today. Because of their late start, it sounded like they might stay at Montclair another night before hiking south on the LT. They decided to do a day hike up the Hump today and return to the shelter for the night. This was my chance and I decided to tag along! Just knowing others would be on the steep trail to the summit eased my concerns about being on a difficult pitch alone, especially in the wet conditions.
It was a couple of hours before they were ready to go, but I was willing to wait. The weather was improving and should provide a clear window to make it the 5.5 miles to Bamforth Ridge. Looks like I wouldn’t miss summitting Camel’s Hump after all!
The group moved quickly, too quick for me to keep up for long, but the sun had popped out and the rock face was drying quickly. I took my time and eventually passed a pair of day hikers that came up the Forest City Trail to the LT. With hikers both in front and behind me, I felt secure. The climb was challenging and a little scary, but fun! From the summit, I could see the muddy Winooski River in the distance and interstate 89 was moving with traffic.
After a quick lunch break on the summit, it was time to head for Bamforth Ridge. A short distance below the summit was the clearing where the old Camel’s Hump Camps had been located. This is a spot that meant so much to my father and it felt great having made it here despite the weather and challenges of the trail. I had no idea what the conditions were like elsewhere on the LT, but I was feeling great about continuing on to Canada. So far, the hike had been a roller coaster both physically and emotionally. Each time I fell on the trail, it led to self-doubt about my physical abilities, the questionable decision to hike alone, and finishing the LT. But reaching this point was a huge confidence boost. I made it over Camel’s Hump (and didn’t “die in the attempt”)!
From here it was three downhill miles to the shelter through mixed forest and a series of tricky rock ledges with great views. One rocky obstacle was like walking on a gymnast’s balance beam with a drop-off on either side! A young hiker caught and passed me in this rocky stretch headed for the same shelter. I was amazed at how fast and secure she was moving, but she too remarked about the difficulty of the technical rock scrambles. I told her I needed to go slow and would see her at the shelter. I had passed most of the difficult sections and was back in the trees when it happened. A nasty spill on slick rock where I bounced off my butt and unceremoniously landed on my back in a big puddle! My pack cushioned the fall, but I broke a trekking pole. I’m not sure if the pole broke, causing the fall, or vice versa. I was shaken. Again.
I brushed myself off and started moving – gingerly. Then came a spot where I wasn’t tall enough to step up through a crevice in the rock. My pack got stuck. I had to back out, take my pack off and throw it up to the next ledge before wedging my back and feet on opposite rocks to shimmy through the crack until I could get a foothold. After my triumph at the summit of Camel’s Hump, I was humbled again and beat up. I finally limped into camp as it was getting late. K. (no trail name yet) who passed me earlier was glad I was there. She seemed happy to have company at the shelter. We had a nice conversation after dinner as both of us started to write in our journals. Mine was pen and paper, hers was an electronic tablet.
Wednesday July 12, 2023 – 2.7 miles
Feeling quite sore this morning and moving slow after yesterday’s fall. I’m left with several bumps and bruises as well as a broken trekking pole.
K. and I chatted again this morning as we packed up and I gave her what food I had left. I wouldn’t be needing it and she was concerned about her next resupply. Then I asked for her trash. She didn’t understand at first. I explained I could dispose of it for her when I got to town so she wouldn’t have to carry it for the next several days. Her eyes lit up and she thanked me profusely! I wished her good luck and safe travels as she left the shelter.
She seemed like a great kid and there was an air of respect towards me. That had been true throughout this hike. Most of the young hikers I met were deferential to me as if I’m some O.G. Maybe it was because of my age, or my story, I don’t know. That was new for me. When I hiked with Gramps and his tramily on the AT a couple years ago, those groups accepted me as one of their own even though I was old enough to be their father – or grandfather! Either way is fine with me.
I lingered for a bit, waiting for my sore muscles to loosen up. It was a nice shelter, and I wasn’t in a hurry. As it turned out, the GMC closed Bamforth Ridge Shelter a day or two later. The foundation had been badly damaged in the storm. Glad I didn’t linger too long.
It was a beautiful morning and pleasant downhill walk, just under three miles to the trailhead parking area. I took more time to observe and photograph my surroundings since I would likely make it to the trailhead well before Emily and Jake. With the good footing and amazing forest scenery, it felt like a healing hike from the early days of my recovery. A little forest healing was just what I needed after yesterday.
I texted Emily that I was at the trailhead ahead of schedule and then waited for them to arrive.
Then and Now
The current trailhead parking area is near the site of the old river ferry. From the 1937 Guide Book: “The ferry across the Winooski River at Bolton (fare 25c) is run by the Bert May family whose house is at the left of the Trail on the road near the south bank of the river.”
Standing at that spot today, the Winooski was running high, muddy, and angry with flood waters spilling well over the banks. A rowboat would not have been an option to cross here anytime soon. Fortunately, the current LT river crossing is 2.3 miles west of the ferry site on the 224′ steel suspension bridge that opened to hikers in 2015.
I sat in the parking area thinking about this adventure and added a few notes to my journal. There are still 90 miles to go to reach the northern terminus of the LT, but this is an even bigger milestone for me. I made it! This is where my father’s journey ended, and I’ve retraced his steps from 1937 including the climb of Camel’s Hump. It’s been quite the adventure just getting to this point and was much harder than I expected. But the challenges I’ve faced enabled me to truly appreciate his journey. I’m really impressed with what he accomplished, and I’d like to think he’d say the same about me.
In contrast to his dramatic statement from the day before, his final journal entries were short and understated. His words were rather matter-of-fact about summitting Camel’s Hump. He mentioned giving some of the last of their food supply to other hikers just like I did. Another cool coincidence. But documenting this journey wasn’t about the little details in common, it was about comparing our experiences. We both found the Long Trail quite challenging, but for different reasons.
My father clearly viewed Camel’s Hump as the major challenge in his hike. For me, Camel’s Hump was more a symbol, the climb a metaphor for my journey of recovery. Even before stepping on the summit, I had triumphed just by being in the position to attempt it. I had already climbed “my” Camel’s Hump over this past year. But I really wanted to stand on the top. Not because I needed validation, but because it would be a fitting way to honor both our journeys.
His journal described the litany of challenges they faced on the trail, and from the moment I first read it, I questioned whether he enjoyed his trip at all. But in the newspaper clipping from the following day, he is quoted as having “enjoyed the trip immensely.” It reminded me of an expression I heard for the first time on this hike: “Type II fun“. One of the Trail Devils mentioned it on our “bedraggled” day. She explained that it’s something that isn’t necessarily fun at the time, but in retrospect, you think of it as fun. That was echoed days later by one of the young counselors with the youth group at Montclair Glen. When I commented about them being drenched from hiking in the worst of the big rainstorm, he immediately responded that it was type II fun. I nodded knowingly.
Following in my father’s footsteps was definitely an exercise in Type II fun. Without the challenges I’ve faced over the last year and on this hike, I don’t know that I would have truly appreciated that.
The northern terminus of the LT is another 90 miles ahead, but for now the journey to Canada will have to wait. It’s time to celebrate this milestone! But instead of buying candy, soda, and ice cream across the river in Bolton, I was happy with a Vermont IPA delivered by Emily and Jake. We toasted the Long Trail, my completion of this part of the trail, and my father’s legacy!
Long Trail, Class of 22/23
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